GOLD SPIRE – Gold Spire (2021)REVIEW

The radiant finesse of a project like Gold Spire will prove surprisingly multi-dimensional depending on your perspective, or, how layered your understanding of popular rock music’s long and storied relationship with jazz music is. We’ll have to funnel our way there quickly and make a mess of generalizations for the sake of the impatient-eyed heavy rock review format. Combining death metal with jazz music’s fusion-minded vernacular is a practice vital to innovations in progressive death metal within certain 1990’s and mid-2000’s circles the same way it was for progressive rock’s intermingling with the psychedelic rock music of the late 1960’s and breadth of 1970’s heavies by way of accessible interpretations via ‘smooth jazz’ or, more commonly the use of modal jazz voicing to create ‘epic’ strands of variation. These might’ve defined one enormously popular song or the span of an entire album depending on the artist and the movement therein but the larger point to make was that these elements brought the intimacy and vulnerability of self-reflection to heavy music. With this in mind death metal’s approach of jazz music has historically been quite the opposite, an aesthetic choice made despite the insistence upon either “fusion” or modal traditions, wherein an amplification of jazz guitar or drum techniques soldered onto the steeled force of technical extreme metal’s unfeeling precision amounts to run-on textural drivel.

In this sense jazz has historically been used as drapery meant to affix “avant-garde” or adventurous tags upon what is typically surface level exploration of the progressive rock (by way of metal) artform, this is also true of a few long-standing black metal traditions but these are largely ignored simply because the two ideologies haven’t yet set an example (see: Five the Hierophant) worthy of their brilliant simpatico, but I digress… In view of the relatively small totality of jazz-infused extreme metal and the enormous world of jazz music itself we can at the very least consider this debut full-length, ‘Gold Spire‘, an markedly deeper than usual connection with said world by comparison to prior examples. We aren’t too far removed from a certain era of progressive rock-sharded interests of former prog-death metal groups like Opeth but more importantly the moody intimacy and mystère of prime progressive rock/jazz infusion is incorporated with serious skill herein. What makes this a remarkable feat from the perspective of an longtime ‘avant-garde’ death metal fan is that Gold Spire have managed the muscle of death metal album (tinged with death/doom) without presenting a forced or purely aesthetic co-habitation of worlds, putting in the work of finding personalized narrative voice within the seamless and beautifully stated connections shared between said spheres (death metal, jazz, progressive rock). That they’ve done so without plainly focusing on surface level modal jazz cliché is remarkable in its own right. Eh, that’ll nearly meet our quota of sub-genre talk for the month, I swear.

Gold Spire officially formed in 2019 between Uppsala, Sweden-based musician/artist Påhl Sundström and longtime collaborator (+ brother) Erik Sundström some several months beyond the respectful end of Usurpress due to the far, far too-early passing of vocalist Stefan Pettersson in 2018. ‘Gold Spire‘ is in some ways a spiritual succession to the brilliant final Usurpress album ‘Interregnum‘ a most-underrated finale to a discography that was only becoming more brilliant with each step forward. That isn’t to suggest this debut is exacting continuation of those forms but you’ll certainly recognize the unique voicing of Sundström‘s guitar work along those lines in these arrangements. ‘Gold Spire’ differs from ‘Interregnum’ by tending towards a blend of heavy rock and death metal drumming which is notably different than session work from Stefan Hildman back in 2018; This won’t necessarily be as noticeable up front due to jazz saxophonist Magnus Kjellstrand being quite prominent in feature throughout the album, it’ll be a major focus of the ear regardless of how many times you’ve spun the record. The interplay between rhythm guitar, keyboard and saxophone are perhaps the most prominently featured coloration available to the full listen but the lasting value of ‘Gold Spire’ comes in the additional reveal of deeper layers of narrative. An eerie noir progression enhanced by Obskyr bassist Peter Broman and several important waves of direction via maestro Heval Bozarslan (Sarcasm, Third Storm) present as one larger piece — A slow dissolution confronted with dismay by way of the warm, sweetly rotten spread of decay.

You’ll have to untether yourself from whatever occupies your mind as Gold Spire begin their presentation. Though this is a brilliant example of bold and oozing-forth modern atmospheric death metal expressionism (see also: Speglas, Bedsore) it requires er, demands some level of serious engagement as it plays. This is not only for the unique use of instrumentation these Swedish fellowes have chosen but also the familiar yet alien atmosphere which it presents, lofty yet shouldering the solar winds reached with great confidence. Opener “Headless Snake” sets the stage with its own sort of lounging ease as it creeps forth, finding a dissonant thread to pick at and expand ’til they’ve frozen time there at the end and astral projected in observance of the crookedly plucked notes that bridge into the major force of the next song (“The Old Bridge”). It might blow in the aether like a fart on Mars to start but every note of this first piece is intentioned, a writhing being coming to life and raising the momentum of the album to a roar. The connection between these two songs indicates that ‘Gold Spire’ has at least one more key thing in common with ‘Interregnum’, it is meant to be enjoyed as a complete and largely seamless experience. On that same note, my only major criticism of ‘Interregnum’ is soon addressed: Where is the hook for the riff-obsessed death metal magnate? The riffs and the brutality begin to present in compressed bursts on “The Old Bridge” as we build to the first of a few arcs in the larger narrative of the album.

“Gloria” is a step into wonder and despair at once, seeing endless thrilling leagues of exploration on the horizon from a treacherous point of view and “Husk of God” is the anti-gravity measures kicking in well after one’s life has flashed before their eyes. These two pieces of death-jazz psychedelia offer the payoff for the blathering paragraphs I’d lead with and “Skull Choirs” seals that point with an even deeper bout of full-scaled multi-genre integration than previous, we are surely in the thick of things here and it takes a big groove to keep these folks from pooling into a mass of cigarette flicking opium-eaters. This piece is, from my perspective, the payoff for pushing this merger of forms into place and smoothing over every crease because here we see a severe mutation of death metal that should still be palatable for the nostril-flaring ‘old school’ death metal elitist to some degree without the saxophone feeling gimmicky or out of place as a melodic agent. From there things flow naturally, easing off the gas pedal and avoiding a too-long third act by clipping the reel at ~40 minutes. This is perhaps the exact right point to end, more than a novella’s worth of visualization yet just enough substance to muse over that the possibilities are left an open and endless sea in the future.

The markedly beautiful death metal album is certainly a thing that many people just don’t want or, the expectation is that a major set of dipole must be explored wherein softness requires brutal extremity to provide thrilling enough juxtaposition. I am especially a fan of psychedelic, progressive and atmospheric extravagance in death metal so, keep this bias in mind. In this case Gold Spire are seeking a harmonious beast, a natural form that expresses the traits of many separate realities and this first major step towards establishing a tri-glottal portal between worlds is intensely successful for my own taste. The only thing ‘missing’ is the upscaled presentation of progressive rock, not that they need to give me “The Gates of Delirium” up front but to use this impressive cohesion in craft of performative landscape; A bit of an inspired rant tends to thrill those of us who’d hang on every note. What they have managed on ‘Gold Spire’ is yet one of the most impressive death metal records of the year and I sincerely hope these folks continue to tread daringly into the morbid unknown. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Gold Spire
LABEL(S):Chaos Records
RELEASE DATE:November 5th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Progressive Death Metal,
Jazz-Metal Fusion

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